Chosen Differences

Written by Christine Moynihan

This was my first experience in Africa – and it has been extraordinary. I left Toronto in minus 20 degree temperatures and arrived to + 30 degrees. Really, a most welcome change!

Zanzibar is a vibrant, busy, beautiful and historic island and I could happily have been “just a tourist” here. However, YCI has given me the great opportunity to see places that an ordinary tourist would never see; an opportunity to live with a local family, to experience Zanzibar as a Zanzibarian – albeit in a small and limited way.

By far the most wonderful part of this journey has been the opportunity to meet and work with the local volunteers at YCI Tanzania and I want to tell you about one in particular – Sharifa Said Ally.

Sharifa-1

Sharifa has been our guide and translator as Rachel Oullette and I delivered  four workshops on Environmental Sustainability to 4 different secondary  schools in and around Zanzibar town. In fact, by the second workshop,  Sharifa had become our co-teacher and by the last of the four workshops, she  was really the lead teacher. It was sheer delight to watch her so easily and  gracefully grow into a leadership role.

Sharifa is twenty years old, was born and raised in Zanzibar and is from a  family of four (two brothers and one sister).   Though, like most children in  Zanzibar, she studied English in school, she did not begin intensive English  study until about 6 months ago – and is already an excellent translator. She  would love to study further and perhaps be a teacher someday. Youth  unemployment in Zanzibar is extremely high – almost 70% – and Sharifa as  told me that she believes that her volunteer work with YCI will help her to get  a good job in the future. I will say that wherever she ends up, they will be  lucky to get her!

When I asked her what she wanted me to write about her, she asked me to  specifically mention the importance to her of her Muslim faith, and to  write also about the importance to her of her dress – which, according to the  beliefs of her faith, means that women dress modestly – with long dresses,  full-length sleeves, with head and hair covered at all times when out in public. She very much chooses to dress this way and finds it both appropriate and comfortable. (I did wonder if, in the heat of Zanzibar, this type of dress was oppressively hot – and she adamantly said no, it was quite comfortable.)

As you can see from the photo, she is a beautiful and modern young woman – and her comments to me about her dress are a vital reminder to us to be always aware of and respectful towards chosen differences.

Reflecting on my time in Zanzibar

Written by Jeffrey Padou

Jeffrey is a Youth Ambassador who worked with YCI in Zanzibar in Spring/Summer of 2014.

In Zanzibar, Tanzania, my colleague (Harpreet) and I worked on the Emerging Leaders program. We specifically focused on the second unit of that program which emphasized leadership. In conjunction with this program we also conducted teaching and training on the subjects of English, computers, civic education, CV writing and interview techniques.

I shall highlight that all of the programs we conducted had a tremendous impact upon the participants. English language skills were highly coveted by participants. Computer skills were valued because they allowed students to “get with the times” as well as having applications for personal and job-related purposes. Civic education was something many of the youth were passionate about, and they were looking for ways to learn these skills and share them with others. Although there was a lower number of participants who attended programs on interview techniques and CV writing, those who did attend, loved the topic.

By and far the program that was most impactful was Emerging Leaders. The program had the highest amount of participants and practical training. The participants loved the topic of leadership and the workshops were very impactful- both for the participants and the facilitators – at least for those who were willing to learn about foreign culture and listen to the needs and demands of local people. My recommendation is that this and other such programs are continued.

The experience that one takes away from volunteering with YCI is worthwhile and life-changing – something I will always have with me. The relationships I built with the participants, my colleagues, overseas staff, and the community made it impossible to walk away un-changed.

While in Zanzibar, I found that a major problem facing youth within their community was a lack of both job opportunities, as well as lack of mobility within organizations and industries. The former is the most challenging of all. There are youth in Zanzibar that have Bachelors degrees and college training who cannot even find a job. Many youth in Zanzibar are educated, yet have a hard time finding employment because of poverty, the lack of opportunity, and the disconnect between the government’s interests and the needs of citizens, particularly youth.

Volunteering has changed my outlook, in a way. I am from a foreign culture, but due to so many years living in the Western world I have somewhat not experienced this reality to its fullest extent. This experience has changed my life. It has taught me compassion, and a care for the whole global community and its citizens. I have also learned the power of innovation, leadership, and the resilient youth which all highlight that anything is possible!

My advice for anyone thinking of volunteering with YCI is plain and simple: go with a willingness to learn rather than expecting to teach or help – you will find the impact tremendous. Have a compassionate heart, be innovative and creative, be dedicated and have a tremendous work ethic, and lastly, be open-minded.

Since volunteering with YCI, I have been busy at school, but I also have a vision of impacting my community in Ottawa. Volunteering did change my life. I originally never planned on going to school for teaching or focusing on education; however after this experience I am considering going into the teaching field and specifically teaching abroad, perhaps EFL or ESL.

“It’s the middle of the night, and it’s time for hatchery duty!”

Written by: Madeline Klaver

If I was the protagonist of some sort of weird, hyper realistic novel, I can safely say that it would not be of the action-adventure genre. It wouldn’t be fantasy or science fiction, or romance or mystery. My life is really not novel-writing material, not because I don’t do interesting things sometimes, but because I am definitely not the kind of person who ends up as a protagonist.

As I am a giant nerd, reading is one of my favourite pastimes. I like to read about people going on crazy journeys, exploring the wilderness, discovering new things and not showering for weeks, probably. But even through all of that excitement, I never see myself as one of those protagonists. I’d most likely be the bookish side-character, or the childhood friend that stays back home.

 That’s why it was a little strange that, when I learned about YCI’s Costa Rica project, I was completely hooked. Environmentalism is my weakness, I suppose, and to be fair I’ve always wanted to try my hand at some genuine fieldwork. And sea turtles are some of the coolest animals on the planet. Aside from all that, I’d just spent two years learning about Spanish culture and the Spanish language in school. I couldn’t sign myself up fast enough.

 And that’s how I found myself on a plane to San Jose on December 26th. I had never travelled alone, or much out of Canada, and I had to be coached every step of the way by a pleasant southern stewardess who kept calling me “sweetheart”. Getting off the plane into San Jose was kind of like jumping into the deep end of a pool. After some confusion, I miraculously managed to find my bag and make it outside into a hoard of people trying to get me to take their specific taxi. I walked slowly, and just kind of glanced around blankly until, mercifully, I was found by Berny, our project leader with RJI.

I remember the taxi ride to the hostel really vividly. San Jose was a blur of colours, narrow sidewalks, and Spanish advertisements. I hungrily took in all of the sights, and arrived at the hostel before I knew it.

There, I was greeted by my group. Everyone was in a sort of giddy pre-adventure mood. We had some quick conversation before turning in for what would be the first of many shortened nights’ sleeps.

We piled into a taxi at 3 AM the next morning, then a bus, then another, dustier bus, then a pickup truck, and then arrived at camp at Playa Caletas. We were greeted by an overenthusiastic puppy (who turned out to be quite the kleptomaniac, but that’s another story), and a group of people who were also working on the project. We did a quick tour of the camp, then unpacked for our two-week stay.

 On that very first night, we had a nest of hatchlings to release before dinner. It was so amazing, getting to pick up these tiny squirmy babies and help them find their way safely to the ocean. They were really funny little things. You put them in the bucket and they beat each other down like “RELEASE ME FROM THIS PLASTIC PRISON.” And then you put them on the sand and it’s “Wait, hold up, what is this? Where is this? How do flippers work again? I am going to sit here for at least a full minute.”

Eventually they do get on their way, though, and it’s a really pretty sight.

turtle tracks  Life at camp was very structured and well-put-together, so I was quickly able to  settle into rhythm with the other people working there. That being said, I was really  far out of my comfort zone (remember, not a protagonist here), and I had some  trouble learning how to live outside of my regular routine. The shower was two  buckets of well water, on a raised tile platform. If you’re strategic about time of day,  you might not even have an audience of eight million hermit crabs. The bathroom is  always full of hermit crabs, though. And always smells kind of like… well, a bathroom  in a rustic camp on the beach. It was a big challenge for me to cope without running  water and electricity and clean feet, but I had gone to Costa Rica expecting to  challenge myself, and I focussed on the turtles and the experience instead.

As I adjusted to my surroundings, I had an incredible support network of wonderful people from all around the world. The people in my group were really nice to me, and helped me out when I needed it. I shared stories with people from England, Germany, Costa Rica and all over the United States and Canada. Learning about all of their cultures was really interesting, and one of my favourite memories of my time at camp was New Years’ Eve, when we participated in traditions from everyone’s homes.

At the stroke of midnight, all of us jumped off of logs (into a good new year), ate twelve grapes, hugged everyone, sang “auld lang sine”, then ran around camp with backpacks to guarantee future travels. All the while we talked and laughed and enjoyed the beautiful place we were all sharing.

For reference, here is a panorama of the camp and its structures:

Panorama of camp

And, right across from that is the vast blue ocean:

ocean

You can also see a rift in the space-time continuum to the right. Or I’m just bad at taking panoramas. Nah, it’s the first thing.

As for the typical structure of our days, it usually went something like this:

1: Breakfast. I was delighted to discover that sacrificing refrigeration didn’t mean sacrificing milk. I had my sleepy, stare-into-space-and-contemplate-life-over-a-bowl-of-cereal every morning, just like at home. Now with at least 200% more iguanas!

2: Morning routine, including bucket showers, teeth brushing with no running water, and shaking out your clothes because scorpions are a horrifying possibility. (Actually, though, there weren’t that many bugs. Hooray for the dry season!) (Well, technically every bug at camp just flocked to Steph, one of the people in our group.) (Moral of the story: bring Steph) (I’m sorry Steph, if you’re reading this.)

3: It’s definitely better to get chores done earlier in the day. All of the chores are arranged into a handy little chart, and you just find your name and then begin. Chores ranged from everyday things like cooking meals and washing dishes (made more challenging by lack of running water and electricity), to things such as washing the bags used to collect eggs, or burning the toilet paper from the bathroom. I learned how to use a lighter, which is a skill I somehow avoided picking up until this trip. I would die in about five seconds in any intense survival situation.

4: If the whole group had some free time, we could do some exploring! The walk into town was a bit too long (two and a half hours), so we only went there if someone could drive us. However, there was a beach just an hour away that was really beautiful and didn’t have waves that could possibly murder you in the cold blood, like at our beach. We also got to explore Playa Caletas a little bit. There are lots of tide pools with really cool ocean life in them, and there’s also a river down at the end of the beach with some spectacular birds to see. I also collected a lot of rocks on these expeditions. I added them to the collection I started when I was four and thought I finished when I was six.

5: I really have to applaud everyone who ever cooked lunch and dinner. People were able to get really creative with the few foods we had, and everything was delicious. Dinner was usually eaten by the light of a headlamp, as it gets dark really fast when you only have one overhead light to speak of. As a side note: with a headlamp, racoons just look like a pair of glowing eyes. That was an experience.

6: Night time is when the real work began. Turtles prefer to operate by cloak of night, like tiny shelled ninjas or something. Our duties at night were split into two main jobs: patrol and hatchery duty.

7: Good morning traveller, it’s 2 AM! Time for a patrol of the beach. I would meet a few others in the kitchen and then sleepily set off North or South in search of turtle tracks. The stars are really beautiful away from civilization, and the sound of the ocean is something I really miss walking alongside. Either using moonlight or red headlamp light, we walked and searched for tracks and talked a bit amongst ourselves. I myself saw four adult turtles during my three weeks, and we found a whole lot more nests. If a nest was found, we would dig it up, and if a turtle was found, we got to sit and watch her for a while.  Adult turtles are the kind of beauty that takes your breath away. They seem to carry the wisdom of the world with them, and the first time I saw one I felt some sort of life-changing feeling wash over me. I saw three in one night, and even got to catch the eggs for one as she laid them. They were warm and kind of squishy and covered in slime. It was awesome. The fourth turtle I saw was a freak turtle that decided to come up during the day, right near our camp.

I will call her Gloria. Gloria the turtle.

Gloria the turtle  8: Annnnd yes, that is the sound of your alarm. It’s the middle of the night, and it’s time for  hatchery duty! The hatchery is a tented area arranged into squares like so:

Hatchery

A section is marked by an orange tag when there are  eggs in it, and when it’s almost time for the eggs to  hatch, a green fence is put around the nest to  prevent  the turtles from escaping everywhere. Lying  in the  hammock and looking at the stars from the  hatchery is  one of the most peaceful feelings ever. That is, until I’d hear a noise from outside and became hyper-aware of the impending threat of predators. I didn’t actually see any predators, though, in any of my hatchery shifts. I did, however, have a nest of turtles hatch on me.

When turtles first hatch, they just kind of hang out above the sand, looking really displeased with the world. I thought it would take a bit of time for them to really start moving around, but it was only about a minute until I had 70 scrambling babies on my hands, and had to quickly put them into a bucket. Not today, friends. Not today.

My time at Playa Caletas was a life-changing experience. I will never forget the things I learned, about nature and about myself, and I will never forget the people who helped me along the way.

Easing myself back into civilisation was even weirder than trying to get a hold of life at camp. Suddenly my feet were clean, and I had light during night-time, and dear lord, that 15 degree Celsius weather in San Jose was like a death sentence. I felt really weird going into my room on my first night back. There were way too many colours. Like, posters-taking-up-all-my-wall-space amount of colours. My eyes were confused, if that makes any sense. It has also remained steadily around –20 degrees Celsius for the past week. I wear a lot of big sweaters.

I’ve told the story of my trip many times since I got home. People always seem to be really happy for me, saying how proud they are or how jealous they are, or just expressing how much they love turtles. Maybe I’ll never quite be the protagonist of an adventure novel, but my travels are definitely interesting enough to impress those around me, and stick with me forever. If my life is a book, it’s probably still really boring to read. I mean, I just spent like an hour typing. I’m getting off-track. If my life is a book, this trip was a really exciting chapter. I’m looking forward to what the next page will bring.

Akwaaba!

Written by: Kimalee Phillip, YCI Volunteer in Accra, Ghana

Akwaaba! Having arrived in Ghana on January 13th after an almost 24-hour journey, I was ecstatic to have once again, set my feet on African soil – Ghanaian soil to be exact.

map-ghana3 (1)

My name is Kimalee Phillip and I was selected to be a Program Development Innovator  with Youth Challenge International – a Toronto-based nonprofit organization that  focuses on sending youth volunteers to various parts of the world to undertake and  support educational, organizational development, health and wellness initiatives. During  my stay in Ghana, I am tasked with creating a fundraising strategy for an organization  called Enactus, Ghana and a programming/skills development training for the YMCA  (the Y) in Accra. I only have 5 weeks to complete these important and detailed tasks  therefore the pressure is definitely on but the challenge is exciting!

There’s a level of familiarity that I feel here in Ghana. Perhaps it’s because the chances of  this land being that of my ancestors since I am an African, born and raised in Grenada is  quite high. In fact, I’m pretty sure that that this is the reason; however whatever it is,  being here feels right and I am truly humbled to have been granted the opportunity to  return.

The YCI staff, Naana, Fred and Nii warmly greeted me in Accra and their continued  support throughout my journey is welcomed and appreciated. Completing my assigned  tasks, more or less on an independent basis, presents its own challenges so I was encouraged when after having met Kwabena and his team at the Y and Baba and Beatrice at Enactus, and realizing how warm and excited they were about working together; I am convinved that the actual process of completing these strategies will be more informative and enjoyable than the final product which is great!

The YMCA

Kwabena Nketia Addae – Executive Director of the YMCA

Kwabena has been at the Y since 2002 and remains motivated by the work done at the Y because he has witnessed the changes and impacts that some of the Y’s programs have had on the lives of young people. At the end of his tenure, he would like to see more young people empowered and motivated to take on additional leadership positions, both at the Y and beyond.

Kwarteng Frimpong – Programs Coordinator

Kwarteng has been with the Y Ghana for a little over a year and is motivated by his desire to make changes in the lives of the youth members of the Ghana YMCA. He is hoping to witness a transformed and more vibrant Ghana YMCA.

Enactus

Baba

When asked why he works with Enactus, Baba said that as a businessperson, he has always been interested in connecting business to the broader community and thus for him, Enactus’ three-pronged approach of linking business to academia and to the community (and environment) was an immediate draw. He also sees his work as an extension of his own spiritual beliefs and responsibilities to humankind and the environment.

Beatrice

Beatrice was first introduced to Enactus while still at school. She appreciates Enactus as it has allowed her the opportunity to actualize the theoretical and pedagogical learning in tangible and practical ways. Currently, Beatrice is exploring her options to pursue further schooling here in Ghana.

I’ve only highlighted a few of the people that I’ll be closely working with however, many lovely people who greet me everyday and who help to make my everyday experiences comfortable must be named. Veronica, Linda, Ben, Reginald and Mr. Adams at the Y, thank you. Of course, there’s still Mama Mina, Francis, Ama, Mina and the lovely people at my homestay but that’s a topic for another post.

To this journey continuing. Medasi pa.

My first volunteer trip!

Written by: Stephanie Ann Juganaden, YCI volunteer in Costa Rica

I have spent the best 2 weeks of my life (so far) with the best group of people possible. We were 5 chosen for the project and came from various parts of Canada. Maddie, Kate, and Tom came from Ontario. Jess is from Nova Scotia and I am from Quebec. I believe that it was destiny that brought us together in this beautiful part of the world. Costa Rica’s landscape tops all of the other places I’ve been to so far. The whole country is simply gorgeous. Everywhere I looked, there was always something remarkable to engrave into my brain. Whenever I will feel sad, I can just close my eyes and imagine Playa Caletas and the beautiful sand and the crashing of the waves along with the stars and the moon shining your path at night. If I were asked to pick my happy place, it would have been in one of those hammocks we had at camp overlooking the ocean.

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Obviously, we were in awe with the beauty that resides in Costa Rica but we still kept our feet anchored to the ground in order to do what we were here to do: Turtle Conservation. We’ve visited one of Pretoma’s installments at Playa Caletas home of the Olive Ridley sea turtles. The protected beach covered 5km from the north to the south end and was separated by 50 posts every 100m. At night, our job was to patrol the beach in two groups: North and South. We left during low tide to ensure enough space for the turtles to walk up the beach and nest and for us to not get sucked into the ocean. I was very fortunate to have seen two turtles and to have released hatchlings on my first night. I also understood that the racoons are notorious for eating freshly nested turtle eggs. We have to protect the survival of these animals and  the best way we can do it is by collecting the eggs and placing them into our hatchery. The hatchery is a small space at the northern part of the camp grounds that houses all the nests that have been collected throughout patrol. Once we collect eggs, we bring them back to the camp and dig a light bulb-shaped hole into the ground (like a nesting turtle) and leave the eggs to incubate for 45 days. Throughout our stay, we’ve released more than 1300 baby turtles into the ocean! They are so adorable!

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Throughout the day, we each had our own chores revolving around the cleanliness of the camp. We either had to cook, wash dishes, wash the patrol egg bags, sweep the cabinas, clean the toilet and shower, throw away the trash and compost, get water from the well, and burn the paper (in Costa Rica, they do not flush toilet paper into the toilet bowls, they burn the contents instead). At night, usually after supper, we would have either Hatchery duty or Night Patrol. These would alternate every day. For night patrol, we would be split up into two groups and would walk along the north or the south side in search for turtle tracks. We were lucky to have had the moon to shine our way and we did not need a headlamp to spot the turtle tracks. You can spot an Olive Ridley track based on the asymmetrical markings in the sand.

At first I thought they were bike tracks or tire tracks but we soon learned that whenever we see one of those, a turtle should not be too far away! Throughout my stay, I saw approximately 10 turtles and 4 of them on our last day for patrolling. Once we spot the turtle, we would let her find her spot to nest and would wait for 20 eggs to drop before collecting the rest. At this stage, she is in a trance and cannot feel or hear anything going on around her. These are perfect moments for predators such as poachers and racoons to attack her. Instead, we tagged her and saw her going back safely into the water and her babies were safe with us. On our way back, we stop by the hatchery to place the turtle eggs for incubation. The day following patrol, we had hatchery duty which was a 3 hour shift from 6pm-5am. I really liked the 3-5am shift because you can see the sunrise and you can also go out for census at 5:30am to see if some of the nests that we could not find were predated (destroyed by the racoons or other animals.)

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What I loved the most about this project is that we got to work together as a team and each person contributed their passion for the turtle conservation project. Everyone was lively and we all looked out for each other. Most of us have faced our fears. I for one have never been camping in my life and I am terrified of bugs, but not anymore! I enjoyed the escape from our rushed/constantly “on-the-go” lifestyle here at home. My biggest stress was making sure I don’t step on one of thousands of hermit crabs on the beach or cooking for 14 people with the remaining batch of produce, before receiving our next order. Also, this experience has taught me that we take running water for granted back home. We were there during the dry season and it did not rain once! The well quickly dried up and we had to use drinking water to clean ourselves or to wash the dishes!

I am thankful to have met these beautiful souls along the way and I don’t think that my experience would have been the same without them. I would recommend this project to anyone who wants to get outside of their comfort zone and wants to explore Costa Rica. Note that Playa Caletas is a minimum of 1.5h walk from the campsite to the town of San Francisco de Coyote. There is also a gorgeous path through the mountain from Playa Caletas to Playa Coyote. You also have to stop by La Veranera (a restaurant by the beach) for a refreshing drink and generous amounts of food. The locals are great and you get to practice your Spanish skills. Thank you to the YCI group, Berny, the people from Turtle Trax and Pretoma, RJI and YCI for making this one of the best trips of my life.

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Making Friends in Stone Town

By: Vanessa Murphy

Vanessa Murphy - Old Fort

Vanessa in Stone Town, Zanzibar

There’s a difference between travelling somewhere and living somewhere. Walking around Stone Town, Zanzibar, it’s very easy to see these differences amongst foreigners. The more I settled in to my life in Stone Town, the more I began to love my time there.

During the summer of 2014, I worked for YCI at their office in Mwanakwerekwe, Zanzibar, teaching a class to young people interested in working for NGOs as part of the Emerging Leaders Program. Stone Town was only a 20 minute dalla dalla ride from where I lived, and my contact point for the rest of the world. Mwanakwerekwe is a bustling market area for locals on the island and a truly authentic Zanzibarian cultural experience. For those times I needed a little more quiet and a break from being the only ‘Mzungu’, I would head into Stone Town to sit by the beach, drink a coffee, or do some shopping.

On my first few visits to Stone Town, I was hassled just like the other foreigners walking into the city. I was asked to ‘just take a look’ in the shops; questioned about what activities I would like to do that day; offered Henna painting and cheap Indian-inspired Ali Baba pants; and challenged with a wide array of Swahili greetings. This meant I was new.

However, the more I ventured into Stone Town, the more Swahili I returned the challenges with, and the more I joked with those approaching me, the faster I began to fit in. Being a ‘White Rasta’ helped me stand out and be remembered of course, but generally relaxing and speaking to people is the fastest way to turn from a money-toting tourist to a Swahili Rafiki.

Vanessa Murphy - Faki at Forodhoni Market

Faki at the Forodhoni Market

Zanzibarians are always looking for a joke, always looking to chat, and love making new friends. This is what makes the island the paradise it is. By the time I left Zanzibar I had friends all over the island, but the ones I had met in Stone Town were an interesting group…

Emmanuel, a young guy in the Old Fort who works selling tourist wares. He first wanted me to buy jewelry but in the end, he took care of my kitten called Moose and made sure he was fed and safe.

Okey Dokey, a fun-loving Rasta with big thick dreads who knew everything going on and every tourist in the area. No matter where I went on the island, he was there.

Big Mama, who first ripped me off by over-charging me for Henna painting, soon became a friendly face around town yelling ‘Vanessa!’ in crowded markets and along the street.

Faki, a past student of YCI’s with the biggest smile in town. He ensured I was well fed at the Forodhoni Night Market where he ran a table selling mountains of sea food, breads, and samosas.

By the time I left Zanzibar, I couldn’t walk into Stone Town without seeing and talking to someone I knew every 10 meters. I was no longer asked to buy things, but instead was asked how my day was. I was no longer offered Henna, but instead offered tea. I was no longer challenged with Swahili, but conversed in it. I was a friend in Stone Town.

Vanessa Murphy - Sun Setting in Stone Town

Sun Setting in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Vanessa Murphy was a YCI Youth Ambassador working in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

To learn more about how you can get involved with YCI’s projects abroad, and to view current opportunities to become a Youth Ambassador, click here.

Hidden Traffic Rules

By: Ting-Yu Wei

To know what the local rules are is critical for a newly arrived traveller. In developing areas, these rules can be unpredictable or implicit. One must learn from experiences. Here is my story.

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“You did not take your passengers to the destination and you charge me for the full amount?!” I stared at the fare collector of the tro-tro and questioned him.

I had been on the bumpy road for hours. This was the third vehicle that I was on. My first taxi was inspected by the police, which dragged the time. The second tro-tro crashed with a taxi and everyone, luckily unharmed, had to wait for another transfer. The fare collector of that tro-tro had returned the full fare to us. Now the third one announced that they were not going forward anymore. This journey should have been a straightforward one and under three hours. I should have been at my destination by this time.

The tro-tro crash

The tro-tro crash

Another passenger took me with him and found another tro-tro going towards our destination. However, the collector of the previous vehicle appeared and demanded the full fare of the ride. I had the fare ready, however I did not think that I should pay him as the tro-tro had failed to get us to the destination. He was busy collecting money, yet firmly blocked me from boarding the next tro-tro. I tried to reason with him, yet he did not respond.

The fourth tro-tro was about to depart. If I missed this one, I would have had no idea how long it would take for the next one to come. Irritated and tired, I handed over the seven cedis to the previous collector and re-stated my previous question; was he still making me pay even though he had not taken his passengers to their destination?

He let me pass. I settled on the seat and turned my stare to him again. The next moment, I found him paying the three-cedi fare to the fare collector of the tro-tro we are on.

I took a deep breath. I misunderstood his behaviour. In this case, I did not have to pay more for this ongoing tro-tro, as I originally suspected. Later on, I confirmed the rule with our local program coordinator. In Ghana, oftentimes, if one tro-tro fails to take the passengers on, they pay another tro-tro with the fare for the remaining journey to send the passengers to their destinations. Yet sometimes, they would return the full fare as the collector of my second tro-tro did after the accident had taken place. Regardless of which action is taken, people take responsibility and do their best to send you to the right place. Honourable people, the Ghanaians.

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It takes time to realize how things are being done locally. There may never be a standard procedure to deal with these incidents. There is always space to learn. Living in a foreign land, we encounter people who behave differently from what we are accustomed to. Any tiny bit of difference in perspective could cause misunderstanding, as both sides perceive things through different lenses. Be respectful, be receptive, be observant and be introspective in these encounters. You will find yourself not only able to connect with the locals you work with, but will also come to see yourself in a truly universal context.
Looking into the world, be wide and open-minded
Ting-Yu Wei is a YCI Youth Ambassador who worked in Ghana in August 2014.

To learn more about YCI’s Ambassador Programs in Ghana, Tanzania and Costa Rica, check out our program calendar.